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Ukraine’s bogged-down offensive still has potential Disregarding military advice from the U.S., Ukraine hesitates to commit the forces needed for a breakthrough towards Tokmak
Like our earlier reports on the combat situation in Ukraine, this article takes stock of the recent developments in the battlefield, based on open-source information. Meduza has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from the very start, and our detailed military analyses are part of our commitment to objective reporting on a war we firmly oppose.
Our map is based exclusively on open-source photos and videos, most of them posted by eyewitnesses on social media. We collect available evidence and determine its geolocation markers, adding only the photos and videos that clear this process. Meduza doesn’t try to track the conflict in real time; the data reflected on the map are typically at least 48 hours old.
Key updates as of 5 p.m. GMT on September 10, 2023
After the Russian command introduced two reserve paratrooper divisions to the Orikhiv operational area by the village of Robotyne, along the main direction of the Ukrainian command’s offensive thrust, the offense predictably slowed down. The Ukrainian side, in contrast, refrains from sending additional units into this theater, disregarding even the U.S. military’s advice to the contrary.
Instead of consolidating forces in the main direction of the offensive, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are now trying to increase the pressure on the operation’s secondary vectors, with renewed efforts south of Bakhmut and by Velyka Novosilka on the Donetsk–Zaporizhzhia regional border. New Ukrainian assaults are also taking place in areas that haven’t seen action in a while, like Avdiivka and Vuhledar.
This is reminiscent of the Russian offensive last winter, when the Russian Armed Forces (RAF) attacked along the entirety of the front line (though without much success, apart from the capture of Bakhmut by the mercenary Wagner Group).
It would make sense to expect the Ukrainian command to try achieving, at least in part, the main goal of this summer’s campaign: rupturing, that is, the Russian defenses south of Orikhiv and capitalizing on the momentum to also take back Tokmak. If achieved, this would be a good start for further strategic progress.
Orikhiv operating area
- Here, the AFU got past the first line of Russian defense (the so-called “Surovikin line”) between Robotyne and Verbove. After liberating Robotyne, the still-fresh Ukrainian forces attempted to take back Verbove immediately.
- This step, in fact, would be critically important to expanding the front of their southward advance and to securing its flank. Without liberating Verbove, the AFU can hardly expect to puncture the Russian defense in the hills south of Robotyne, around Novoprokopivka and Solodka Balka. Nor can they get around this area from the east, because of the Russian fire positions set up in Verbove. New attempts to liberate Verbove are therefore likely to follow.
- Nevertheless, the strip of Russian defenses on this vector has not yet been punctured. A well-fortified segment of the “Surovikin line” is just south of Robotyne. Between Robotyne and Verbove, the Russian troops are now setting up new fortified positions. As for the strength of the Russian defense, it depends less on engineering factors than the forces committed to holding those defensive positions.
- By moving additional reserves to the Orikhiv direction, Russia managed to stabilize the situation without changing it cardinally: the AFU still has an advantage here in terms of force, even if it isn’t enough for a decisive breakthrough.
- The Ukrainian side has already mobilized all the units it had prepared for the offensive. In theory, it could now intensify the offensive by drawing additional units to the area from other directions, trying to liberate Verbove, putting more pressure on Novoprokopivka, and trying to rupture the Russian defense line between Novoprokopivka and Verbove.
- This would nevertheless take a lot of troops: not just enough troops for a breakthrough, but enough to exploit and develop it with a thrust towards Tokmak.
- The Bakhmut front is considered the main donor of reserves for the Orikhiv theater. Since May, the AFU has engaged major forces in Bakhmut in an effort to drive the Russian army out of the city. To do this, the Ukrainian side tried to envelop it from both north and south, later consolidating the assault on the southern side.
- A continued offensive in this area would naturally preclude moving significant forces from here to Zaporizhzhia. Instead, the AFU keeps up the assault on the Klishchiivka–Andriivka–Kurdiumivka line, trying to get to the southern outskirts of Bakhmut.
- Over the last week, there was fighting in Klishchiivka and Andriivka, as the Russian troops slowly retreated past the railway line connecting Bakhmut to Horlivka. Both sides like to use railway segments as lines of defense, and this segment has the same potential for the Russian side.
- Unlike a breakthrough in the Tokmak direction, the Bakhmut offensive is unlikely to yield much strategic benefit for Ukraine. Still, if the AFU succeeds in liberating the city, this might improve the overall outlook of the summer campaign and its effectiveness.
- The Ukrainian command realizes by now that advancing southward from Velyka Novosilka, through the valley of the Mokri Yaly River, will not produce a breakthrough, since it would require both expanding the offensive front line and securing the flanks. In late summer, the AFU tried in vain to liberate the village of Pryiutne, located west of this valley. Now they’re trying to attack from the east, which requires driving the Russian units out of both Novodonetske and Novomaiorske.
- This month, the AFU launched an assault on the Russian positions in these two settlements. While the Russian artillery wouldn’t let the liberating army take back Novodonetske, the early attack on Novomaiorske went well for the Ukrainian side, whose units traversed the grey zone, next trying to secure new positions on the outskirts of the settlement. Later, they came under Russian artillery fire, and the outcome of the assault remains uncertain for the moment.
Meduza is careful in working with data, but mistakes are still possible, and perhaps even inevitable. If you spot one, please let us know by sending an email to [email protected]. Thank you!
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